Island teen overcomes childhood accident to excel at percussion
An electrical accident left his hands disfigured when Jesus Salinas was just a baby. Now, Salinas, 17, is Ball High School’s top percussionist in Galveston. He’s also too modest to mention that he’ll be senior class president this fall — his band director had to do that for him.
That teacher is Andrew Vowell, actually Ball High School’s assistant band director and one of his student’s strongest supporters. What impresses Vowell most is Salinas’ “figure-it-out attitude,” he said.
“There’s a lot of kids who’ll do that, but Jesus takes it to another level,” Vowell said. “Like, ‘All right, I’ve gotta overcome this, but I’m going to figure it out.’”
Salinas doesn’t remember what happened to him, but it cost him all the fingers on one hand and the thumb on his other; the accident also fused together the middle, ring and pinky fingers on that hand.
“My mom knows most of the story, but I’m not really too interested because it already happened, so I just said, ‘Oh, move on,’” he said.
Salinas doesn’t remember much about his rehabilitation either, just a “squishy thing” he used to squeeze over and over again to strengthen his grip, he said.
“But I know I did have rehab for a long time,” he said.
Salinas got interested in percussion in elementary school when a group of high school band members came to play for his class. Salinas remembers liking the cadences, the sharp, insistent patterns the drums would beat out. Steven Farrell, now Ball High School’s head band director, began giving Salinas lessons in fifth grade, even though most students don’t start band until sixth grade.
Eventually Salinas gravitated to the mallet instruments, xylophones and marimbas and such. He uses everyday athletic wristbands to secure the mallets against his wrists, and plays with a stunning degree of precision and velocity. At the University Interscholastic League’s annual Solo and Ensemble competition in February, a judge told Vowell, “This kid has the best touch and feel around the marimba … it’s like he’s born with it.”
Another judge, in his official comments, was even more succinct. “He only said one thing on the paper,” Salinas said.
Vowell picks up the story: “He said, ‘Wow.’ Usually it’s filled with ‘Hey, fix this…’ This is the first one I’ve ever seen that just said ‘Wow.’”
Salinas also is a member of the National Honor Society and junior class president. Outside of school, he works at the San Luis Resort in Galveston and enjoys long-distance running and working on cars, he said. One day, he’d like to own his own business or some rental property, but he still has plenty of time to figure that stuff out.
“I’m just enjoying right now,” he said.
In any case, Salinas has a big few months ahead of him. The mallets have a prominent role in the Golden Tornado Marching Band’s fall halftime program, “Through the Ages.” In November, he and two fellow students will travel to Indianapolis for the Percussive Arts Society’s international convention, a favored destination for the likes of late Rush drummer Neil Peart and Steve Gadd, Paul Simon’s longtime stickman. Vowell describes it as a “drummer Candy Land.”
Salinas recently picked up a sponsorship from Grover Pro Percussion, one of America’s leading outfitters for all-things drum-related. Neil Grover — longtime Boston Symphony and Boston Pops percussionist, and the company’s namesake — has asked him to be a part of an inclusion panel, to explore ways percussionists might broaden their ranks.
“Jesus is going to be talking with the biggest guys in our field,” Vowell said.